Diego Urcola: Musical Ecstasy
Among his classmates at the Boston school were Danilo Perez, Mark Turner, Chris Cheek, Antonio Hart, Roy Hargrove, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Geoffrey Keezer. "The great thing was not really the classes. I had some good teachers, but the main thing at Berklee was you could get rehearsal rooms from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. I was playing two or three jam sessions or rehearsals every day. That was when I really learned; it was a good generation of guys at that time. A lot of great musicians and great composers. A lot of them moved to New York, like me, and started careers. For a guy from Buenos Aires, who didn't have anybody my age that was interested in this music, to go there and see all those guys was amazing. It was like heaven for me."
Urcola stayed in Boston after graduating, continuing to adjust to being in America. He was doing Latin gigs and various other jobs and making money. Things were nice, he says. But musicians he knew were making the move to New York. "I figured why not give it a try. I had nothing to lose. That happened in '91. Twenty years after that, I'm still here."
In the Big Apple, "It was amazing because the scene was really good. There were a lot of great players, not only coming from Boston, but from all over the world. I started to get serious about getting some work. I had to pay my dues, but I was lucky enough." A break came when D'Rivera's trumpet player, Claudio Roditi, left his band. Some friends and he got the gig. The relationship has continued through to today.
"I still work with him. I don't do it all the time because I have other things. But Paquito is the main reason I'm still around," says Urcola. "Paquito used to work a lot at that time with a quintet. That was basically the only thing he was doing at the time. We used to work a lot. The first years, I wasn't playing that much in New York because I was playing with him on the road all the time. You need that. You need some kind of break like that."
Urcola was making other associations when in town, including those with Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath; he toured with both. "There are a lot of musicians that got to know me because of Paquito. Steve Turré. I did some gigs with Joe Henderson before he died. And many other things." Other notable gigs through the years have been the Caribbean Jazz Project, touring with (bassist) Avishai Cohen's International Vamp Band, and fellow Argentine Guillermo Klein's outstanding band. He started recording under his own name in 1999, releasing Libertango (Fresh Sound), followed in 2003 by Soundances (Sunnyside), which received nominations for the 2004 Latin Grammys and 2005 Grammy Awards. In 2007, Viva (Cam Jazz) also was Grammy-nominated.
It was D'Rivera's fondness for the valve trombone that got Urcola drawn into it. He says Roditi played it at first, when he joined D'Rivera, and the saxophonist liked how the horns blended. After a while, Roditi went to just playing trumpet. When Urcola got the gig, he suggested the valve trombone, but Urcola didn't bite. Not yet.
Then, "five or six years ago, he showed up to my apartment with a brand new Yamaha valve trombone," Urcola said, with a laugh. "He told me, 'Bring it to the Blue Note.' We had a gig at the Blue Note in a couple of weeks. I figured at least I would have to give it a try. It was hard at the beginning. But for me it was helpful in many kinds of ways. It helped me with my trumpet chops. I felt better after I started playing the trombone. I use it also with some other bands, like Guillermo Klein and the Caribbean Jazz Project. And with my own thing. It's a really nice instrument. It's not that popular in the U.S., but it's popular in Brazil and it's popular in Mexico. Even more than the slide trombone. Because it's an instrument that can move around. In Brazil, they use it a lot for the samba, the carnival bands.
"For me, as a trumpet player, the only thing you really have to work on is the embouchure," explains Urcola. "It's a completely different embouchure. It's a huge mouthpiece compared to the trumpet. You have to build up a new embouchure. But the technique is similar. After a while, it started to feel natural to play it and go back and forth. It's very complimentary for me, because the trumpet is kind of like a soprano register. The trombone is a tenor register. So it has a completely different register you have to play. The instruments are kind of similar, but it's not like everything you play on the trumpet works on the trombone. You have to play it and see what works for the instrument. For me it's a nice double. I use it on my own gigs. Maybe I get tired a little bit playing the trumpet. I just pick up the trombone."